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Feb 7, 2004 4:35 pm


"Our Children Will Sing Great Songs..."



Jim Pinkerton, on Bush's budget-busting ways, and on the GOP as the party of warfare and welfare:

In the last decade, both parties have discovered that big government can be popular with the middle class -- if those big-government bucks are spent on the middle class. Clinton steered the Democratic party away from exotic and fringe concerns; he made the bulk of Americans feel good about getting money from Uncle Sam. Which is to say, Clinton started to transform Washington from the tool of minorities to the tool of the majority. Bush is doing the same thing. If the American middle class wants better schools, the federal government will seek to provide them, and pay for them; traditional conservative compunctions about federalism and decentralization will be forgotten.

Indeed, the dominant thinking within the GOP is not conservative, but rather neoconservative. Irving Kristol, defining"The Neoconservative Persuasion" in the August 25 issue of the Weekly Standard, writes that his ideological fellow travelers are"impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on 'the road to serfdom.'" Neocons, he says, see the growth of the state as"natural, indeed inevitable." They have no interest in a minimalist Goldwaterian state; it's"National Greatness" they crave. These neocons once opined that such greatness might be found in majestic monuments. David Brooks in a 1997 Weekly Standard piece on"A Return to National Greatness" waxed lyrical over the Library of Congress as the embodiment of"brassy aspirations of Americans" and"their brash assertion that America was emerging as a world-historical force." But after futilely casting about for opportunities on the home front, neocons have settled on the idea that greatness comes from fighting foreign wars.

Richard Perle, a leading hawk with influence in the administration, outlined that road to greatness in 2002."This is total war," he declared."If we just let our vision of the world go forth . . . our children will sing great songs about us years from now." And while George W. Bush might once have wished to be a"humble" president, it's clear now that he means to be a Greatness president. ...

[F]or now, the Republicans have the upper hand. They've long had the edge on tough-talking flag-waving, yet they were vulnerable to looking hard-hearted and uncaring. Under Bush they've solved that problem, because they are now willing to spend like Democrats. The result: a right-wing big government, heavy on nationalism, with a touch of militarism. And it seems to be working. Today, it looks as if tomorrow belongs to the Big Government GOP, the party of both warfare and welfare.

I suspect this may well be regarded by historians as Bush's singular achievement: he has combined the worst aspects of both the Republicans and the Democrats ("worst" from the point of view of anyone espousing a strictly limited government), and he has caused the GOP officially to renounce any commitment it might still have had to the principles which originally underlay this country. Moreover, he has ramped up all these excesses -- huge spending, nationalism, and militarism -- to previously unknown levels. (If you are tempted to object that militarism was surely just as great during World War II, for example, remember that Bush has said that the"War on Terror" represents a generational or even multigenerational commitment, a claim that Roosevelt never made, and most probably never would have considered making. And that difference cannot be explained by appeals to the alleged nature of the enemy we now face, as I have discussed at considerable length in this essay.)

As a result, there is no way that someone like me could even consider voting for Bush in November. If there is no other Presidential candidate for whom I feel comfortable voting, I will not vote for anyone. And that will be yet another"achievement" for which I shall find it close to impossible ever to forgive Bush. If he is reelected, I hate to contemplate the damage he might do in another four years.

Still on the subject of the neoconservatives, you may find much enjoyment, as I did, in Michael Lind's review of Richard Perle and David Frum's latest tome, An End to Evil. It is a serious and comprehensive review of neoconservative history, and also contains some truly delicious passages, such as this one about a recent David Brooks column:

[David] Brooks continued:"In truth, the people labeled neocons... travel in widely different circles and don't actually have much contact with one another." In truth--to use Brooks's phrase--among those who have signed PNAC letters are Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and Robert Kagan. PNAC is run by William Kristol, who edits The Weekly Standard, for which Brooks writes, and is the son of Irving Kristol, founder of The Public Interest and former publisher of The National Interest, who wrote a book called Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, and is married to the neoconservative historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, William's mother. Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, is the father of John Podhoretz, a neoconservative editor and columnist who has worked for the Reverend Moon's Washington Times and the New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns The Weekly Standard and Fox Television. Norman is the father-in-law of Elliott Abrams, the former Iran/contra figure and former head of the neocon Ethics and Public Policy Center and the director of Near Eastern affairs at the National Security Council. Elliott's mother-in-law and Norman's wife, Midge Decter, like many older neocons a veteran of the old Committee on the Present Danger, was recently given a National Humanities Medal after publishing a fawning biography of Rumsfeld, whose number-two and number-three deputies at the Pentagon, respectively, are Wolfowitz and Feith, veterans of the Committee on the Present Danger and Team B, the intelligence advisory group that grossly exaggerated Soviet military power in the 1970s and '80s. Perle, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (and its former head), is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and sits on the board of Hollinger International, a right-wing media conglomerate (including the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Telegraph) controlled by Conrad Black, the chairman of the editorial board of The National Interest, which Black partly subsidizes through the Nixon Center. Perle and Feith--both PNAC allies--helped write a 1996 paper called"A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," on behalf of Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Perle, Feith and the other US and Israeli authors called on Israel to abandon the Oslo process and to restore martial law in the Palestinian territories long before the second intifada began. Co-authorship is common among the neocons: Brooks and Kristol, Kristol and Kagan, Frum and Perle.

These are people who, according to David Brooks,"don't actually have much contact with one another."

And Lind's conclusion:
Unfortunately for them, a political ideology can fail in the real world only so many times before being completely discredited. For at least two decades, in foreign policy the neocons have been wrong about everything. When the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, the hawks of Team B and the Committee on the Present Danger declared that it was on the verge of world domination. In the 1990s they exaggerated the power and threat of China, once again putting ideology ahead of the sober analysis of career military and intelligence experts. The neocons were so obsessed with Saddam Hussein and Yasir Arafat that they missed the growing threat of Al Qaeda. After 9/11 they pushed the irrelevant panaceas of preventive war and missile defense as solutions to the problems of hijackers and suicide bombers.

They said Saddam had WMDs. He didn't. They said he was in league with Osama bin Laden. He wasn't. They predicted that no major postwar insurgency in Iraq would occur. It did. They said there would be a wave of pro-Americanism in the Middle East and the world if the United States acted boldly and unilaterally. Instead, there was a regional and global wave of anti-Americanism.

David Brooks and his colleagues in the neocon press are half right. There is no neocon network of scheming masterminds--only a network of scheming blunderers. As a result of their own amateurism and incompetence, the neoconservatives have humiliated themselves. If they now claim that they never existed--well, you can hardly blame them, can you?

(And I analyzed Irving Kristol's"The Neoconservative Persuasion" in considerable detail here.)

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